(NationalSentinel) Defense: President Donald J. Trump’s Cabinet picks consisted largely of political outsiders with no connections to the Deep State or the entrenched bureaucracy he hopes to dramatically trim. Largely.
Not strangers to Washington’s political machinations are the former military generals he selected for key positions at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security; any flag officer knows that in order to win congressional approval for promotion, you have to be a little political in order to be confirmed. That’s just the way it is.
Which is why the president is said to be chafing over his pick to run the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis. The former Marine general, who was Trump’s first Cabinet pick confirmed (on the same day he was inaugurated, Jan. 20), keeps trying to fill key undersecretary positions with careerists who have ties to the Democratic Party – a non-starter for a commander-in-chief who is dealing daily with Obama era holdovers leaking vital intelligence information to a compliant, if discredited, Washington press corp.
…[I]n the six weeks since Mattis began running the Pentagon, he hasn’t named a single deputy for Senate confirmation that has been approved by the White House. Reports in The Wall Street Journal and Politico indicate the White House and Mattis are clashing over the positions, a very troubling sign given that rebuilding the U.S. military is one of Trump’s top priorities.
Trump is not exaggerating when he says the armed services are short on readiness and supplies. As Kimberly Strassel of The Wall Street Journal noted in her Feb. 24 column, half of the Navy’s planes are grounded and the Air Force doesn’t have enough pilots.
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Former President Obama steadily chipped away at Pentagon funding, while Army numbers dropped. The U.S. military’s readiness got so bad, Obama’s former secretary of the Army, John McHugh, complained to the Association of the United States Army in October 2015: “We are in an extraordinarily rare position in American history where are our budgets are coming down but our missions are going up.”
McHugh said then that the Army was at the “ragged edge of readiness.”
Once at a high of 570,000 troops, the U.S. Army – under successive Obama budgets that had to be signed off on by Republican-controlled congresses – is scheduled to decrease to 450,000 by the end of Fiscal Year 2018 – a decline of 120,000 men and women, the lowest number of active duty troops since before World War II.
And while Trump selected a hard charger like Mattis to lead the military back to sound fighting strength, the two can’t seem to get on the same page regarding under-secretary appointees:
The picks Mattis makes for his deputies must be confirmed by the Senate. These are not just personnel decisions — they are policy decisions.
Mattis misfired with one of his first choices, for deputy secretary. Mattis wanted to choose Michele Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration. Reports indicate pushback from the Trump team in the White House led Flournoy dropped out.
Mattis’ eyeing of former Obama officials seems tone-deaf, as Trump is furiously working to remove Obama loyalists from all major agencies. The leaks of sensitive military and foreign-policy details are also driving Trump to carefully weigh appointments.
Such disagreements between presidents and Cabinet picks are not uncommon; they also occurred in the Obama administration but – interestingly – not in the Reagan administration, where he and his foreign policy and national security picked saw eye-to-eye.
Whatever needs to happen to get Mattis and the president seeing eye-to-eye needs to happen quickly, though it may never happen, considering some reports say Mattis – a blank slate, politically – is deliberately being stubborn. Threats are rising and the world isn’t getting any safer.
“President Trump should be very careful about alienating Mattis, who gives the administration credibility in an area where the president sorely needs it,” said Robert Kaufman, professor of public policy at Pepperdine University and author of “In Defense of the Bush Doctrine.” “Perhaps the president and Gen. Mattis can reach a reasonable compromise, with the latter having wide discretion so long as the deputies he chooses are not former officials in the Obama administration.”
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